8 Reasons to Stop Buying Candles and Scent Plug-Ins

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Scented plug-in air freshener
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Last year, a friend and I rented an Airbnb in Las Vegas. As soon as we opened the condo door, we were hit with a perfume bomb — plug-ins in every room spewing out a knee-buckling fake floral scent.

The only things that saved the trip were a strong air purifier and our TSA-required Ziploc bags. We cranked up the purifier and immediately bagged and sealed the six air “fresheners.”

It made me wonder: Why are some Americans so fanatical about perfuming the air in their homes and cars? And what’s the downside — medically and financially — of this obsession?

The first question is worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation (who’s in the mood for that?). The second is more manageable. Here are reasons why you should snuff out the candles and unplug the plug-ins.

1. The expense

Sad looking woman with receipt in hand.
Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

According to data compiled by Statista, Americans spent about $3.3 billion on air fresheners for their homes and cars in 2023. That’s a lot of money — and a lot of perfume.

If you’re looking to cut back on non-essential spending, this category seems like an easy one to eliminate.

2. They’re not great for the environment

Scented plug-in air freshener refills on a store shelf
Colleen Michaels / Shutterstock.com

Though plug-in devices are reusable, they require a steady supply of refills. These liquid- or gel-based perfumes are housed in plastic containers and typically packaged in plastic blister-packs.

With plug-ins in multiple rooms and different scents marketed for different seasons, this approach to home fragrance feeds landfills. And that stinks for the environment. (Most types of plastic are “rarely recyclable” — even if they have a recycling symbol on them — according to the nonprofit Greenpeace.)

3. They reduce indoor air quality

Candles next to a houseplant
Daria Minaeva / Shutterstock.com

According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, candles and other air fresheners release potentially harmful chemicals known as volatile organic compounds into the air. VOCs include formaldehyde, benzene, ethyl benzene and xylenes.

Irritants to the eyes, nose, and throat, VOCs are both difficult to smell and hard to avoid since manufacturers are not legally obligated to list all ingredients on consumer packaging.

4. They can trigger allergies

Woman with a cold
aslysun / Shutterstock.com

For people with fragrance allergies, scents don’t have to touch the skin to be irritating. According to WebMD, strong natural and artificial fragrances in the air can cause headaches and breathing difficulties.

My advice? Treat cologne, air fresheners, scented candles, and scent diffusers like you would cigarette smoke. Assume the odor will offend at least a few of your guests and abstain.

5. They can worsen asthma

Woman using an inhaler
Have a nice day Photo / Shutterstock.com

More than 25 million Americans are living with asthma — a condition that can be affected by indoor air quality.

According to the American Lung Association, scents and certain chemicals in air fresheners can worsen asthma symptoms, especially during colder months when we typically spend more time indoors and keep the windows shut.

6. Candles are a fire hazard

House on fire
Sean Thomforde / Shutterstock.com

Of course, everyone knows about the fire risk of an open flame inside a home, but let’s take a closer look at the stats: According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles were the second-leading cause of bedroom fires and the fifth-leading cause of living room fires from 2018 to 2022.

And during that same period, candles were the eighth-leading cause of injuries resulting from all home fires.

7. Candles can be harmful to pets

Dog and a cat
Chendongshan / Shutterstock.com

Our furry friends have much smaller lungs than we do and a far more developed sense of smell. What may be a subtle background fragrance for us is likely overwhelming and confusing for them.

According to Everyday Health, candles made with essential oils can be fatal if eaten by a dog. And the fumes from burning candles can worsen existing respiratory issues in both cats and dogs and lead to symptoms such as:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing and reverse sneezing
  • Extreme panting and coughing
  • Pawing at the face and eyes

8. They may harm developing fetuses

Serious pregnant woman
Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock.com

There’s surprisingly little data about the effects of prolonged exposure to artificial scents on the unborn. But the U.K.-based website BabyCentre suggests that women avoid or take precautions with air fresheners and aerosols during pregnancy. The VOCs found in these products may be transferred from mother to fetus and could affect the baby’s lung development.

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